PARIS — After narrowly missing out on the Ligue 1 title last season, Paris Saint-Germain is the overwhelming favorite to win a first French crown since 1994 this time around.
The bottomless pockets of the French capital club have allowed them to build one of the strongest squads ever seen in Ligue 1, at a time when the rest of the country has been busy tightening their belts.
There have been five different champions in the last five seasons, and few would bet against PSG making it six in six after a summer spending spree that has seen Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Ezequiel Lavezzi further bolster an already impressive squad.
So the question is, can anybody stop Carlo Ancelotti’s side from romping to the title?
When Montpellier deservedly pipped PSG on the final day of last season, there was a feeling that the southern club’s success was something unique, never to be repeated.
Montpellier is a modest club, and had never been champion before. Its success was built on solid foundations, but it is hard to see how it can compete with the men from the capital in the years to come. It has lost Olivier Giroud, the 21-goal top scorer from its title-winning campaign, who has been sold to Arsenal.
However, other key men, such as playmaker Younes Belhanda, captain Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Henri Bedimo all remain, for now, and coach Rene Girard is hoping to push PSG all the way.
“It is up to us to make things as hard as possible for PSG,” he says. “When you look at them on paper their possibilities are limitless. They are the big favorites.”
Despite losing Eden Hazard, Ligue 1’s player of the year in each of the last two seasons, to Chelsea, 2011 double winner Lille appears the best-equipped to challenge PSG in the coming years.
The 40 million-euro ($50 million) transfer fee recouped for Hazard has allowed Lille to invest money in new players such as Sochaux’s France playmaker Marvin Martin and Ivorian winger Salomon Kalou, whose contract at Chelsea had expired.
No amount of money can replace a player of Hazard’s ability, but it is Lille’s move to a brand-new 50,000-seat stadium that gives it hope for the future. The venue will allow Lille to vastly increase gate receipts and helps make Rudi Garcia’s side an even more attractive proposition for potential new signings.
Lyon is not the force it once was, and comes into the season still looking to offload some of its bigger earners before it can make any new signings.
Question marks continue to surround the future of France goalkeeper Hugo Lloris in particular, although coach Remi Garde can still call on the likes of Yoann Gourcuff and Lisandro Lopez.
These are troubled times at Marseille too, with France’s best-supported club still picking up the pieces following a desperately poor last campaign.
Didier Deschamps departed the Stade Velodrome at the beginning of July, and promptly took over the reins of the French national team.
But there was to be no marquee name coming in to replace the man who led OM to the title in 2010. Instead, Elie Baup has returned to management from his role as a television pundit.
Beyond them, Rennes, Toulouse, Saint-Etienne and Bordeaux will all hope to challenge for a place in Europe, while the arrival of former Lyon manager Claude Puel at Nice could make for an interesting season on the Cote d’Azur.
The return of Bastia to the top flight also means the welcome addition to Ligue 1 of the Corsican derby against Ajaccio, one of the most passionate in French football.
But that, and all the rest, are expected to be mere distractions on a march to the title by PSG. — AFP